85 posts • joined 30 Nov 2008
What comes around goes around
Reminds me of an even worse arrangement about CRTs in the early 1980s. VDU terminals at reasonable prices (e.g. for the education market) were either very expensive or used grotty CRTs exhibiting poor focus of the beam. That was because the owners of the (I believe) Japanese suppliers of high quality but low cost CRTs blocked their availability to UK manufacturers such as Newbury Data. Televideo broke that cartel by manufacturing the monitor section in S Korea (where the good CRTs were available), building the logic board and doing final assembly in California, and then allowing UK dealers to buy the finished product. Lots of students benefited.
Hand assembled? Have done that fully legit - for an 8035 microcontroller some 30 years ago and got quite good at it - fixing bugs in some equipment that the company that I was a director of handled.
Moving to smart media
Over the next few years, rail tickets will become available on smart cards and in NFC smartphones. The first stage is SEFT, the South East Flexible Tickets programme kicked off last autumn, with season tickets and (for the flexible version) a sort of carnet. Then new franchisees will be told to provide full fat smart ticketing (already in 2 franchise ITTs). Smart media tickets allow for electronic recording of journeys taken (the ITSO spec and support network and key server).
Fond memories by proxy of the old RM, as teachers I know loved their products. As for me, I'm typing this with an old RM kbd, streets ahead of the things that come with today's PCs. And I used to make heavy duty kbds in the 1980s...
The late Lord Soper, he of the staunchly teetotal Methodists (he was an ordained Minister and also friend of my father from WWII days), once said that maybe in the afterlife an occasional glass of white wine would be permitted.
This isn't the first time...
...that phishers have attacked the student loan company, as I (not a student) have received random emails of this sort for some time. Its time the student loan company set up the standard 'phishing' mailbox to receive reports of these attacks, as the only mailbox that I could find on their web site was 'firstname.lastname@example.org'.
Would it be too much to ask of them that they listen and consider what others are doing? Like the USA NSTIC programme for an open eID scheme that helps us in all transactions, rather than a closed scheme that creates a new ID database for public sector use only.
Get it right
Francis Maude MP is the new Minister for Cyber Security.
He cites DVLA, but their web site has an 'issue' that the car tax renewal page refers to an out of date layout for the reminder notice that you get sent in the post, and a source tells me that DVLA has a freeze on updating the web site...
Are all of you commenting...
...too young to remember that steam radio series Journey Into Space. Really scary!
Extra bit in the middle
The Elliott 503 also had an extra bit in the middle: 39 bit word holding 2 instructions, the bit in the middle being a flag bit that if set caused the result of the first instruction to be a modifier for the 2nd instr.
Which takes me to the spoof about ICL New Range: that it would have a 49 bit word (8 x 6 to emulate 1900, or 6 x 8 for NR native mode), plus a spare bit. "What is the spare bit for?" was the core of the spoof. Two of us created it, and it ran quite some distance.
The IBM 1620..
...was the first computer that I used, too. Magic.
Ken, you made my day for a few years, organising the buying of PDP-11s across faculties in a university, not always sure what the source of the funds was but getting good deals from the salesman, helping out the service engineer when he didn't have the needed spare and it was too far to go and get it (we would cannibalise a machine not doing something urgent that day or the next), not always pleasing my boss as a result (he thought that the DEC machines took work away from his dinosaur mainframe)...
Its a mystery why we don't make more use of psychologists to design UIs. We have to use them to design aircraft cockpits... Asked one of my LA's crap highway engineers recently if he had had training in occupational psychology and he just looked puzzled (he was quite young - I would not dare to ask the older ones that question). Mind, I never used them in my design work - my native cunning was good enough.
The day when MS was really helpful
In the mid-90s I was running a business that needed to develop a wide screen video driver for Win95, but something in the OS kept trashing the parameters that we set - you could only have the video formats wot MS defined. Then along came an SR update with a lovely new driver development kit. Unfortunately the big set of MS Developer Network CDs didn't include the dev kit. Cue phone calls to the USA, payment of about $40, and many hours of overnight tuition of our programmer by phone. Bingo!
What was it this week, then?
XP has had some patches this week (2 for one system here, 3 for another). Can anyone enlighten me about those?
Not news, but useful confirmation
This plan has been around for a while, but always as a plan. Lots of things have now slotted into place, in particular TfL now contracted just with Cubic, not with that consortium of Cubic and EDS/HP. So it looks as if we have endorsement of this plan, rather than a slower one, by TfL's Board - of course Cubic want to get a move on, now that they are believed to have the technology upgrade ready to go. But they do need to ensure that they don't fall foul of an Olympic embargo on upgrades too close to the Games.
Why upgrade the buses first? Easier to do, doesn't need those negotiations with the TOCs, there is a belief that fare evasion on the buses is massive. Also the buses need to be able to verify the Freedom Pass cards and the bus passes from the English national scheme (ENCTS) - all those ENCTS and Freedom cards are ITSO compliant, about 10M of them, so that's yet another different process in the ticket equipment.
As an aside, TfL have now bought the Oyster brand name.
Mifare: yes, a lot of the ENCTS bus passes are Mifare Classic, some of them will be around for 4 or 5 years more. So we could see Oyster on Mifare Classic also being supported for the same period, but eventually there will be a cutoff announced (Oyster cards don't seem to have an expiry date).
Not much news there
Soon after the original Mastercard Paypass trial got started, the MTA and MC started saying that the full scheme will accept contactless payment cards from all banks as long as they conform to the industry spec. So all that is announced here is the passing of a milestone. Yes, the back office system has needed a lot of development, because, as usual with these trials, the initial installation isn't what you end up with in the end. Think Swindon Mondex and current full spec Mondex in use in several parts of the world - considerably different.
Many variants of those emails circulating for some time
These emails are not new. Both US English and British English versions have been arriving here for months, some with an attached file, some with online links. None seen this month (yet), though...
Did nobody think of training the users in advance? (Perhaps they did, but would not spend the money - if so, Trev, change your job.)
In the 80s I used to make rugged custom keyboards for financial dealing rooms. Never tried one in a dishwasher, but the rule was: if you pour coffee or coke in it, own up immediately and holler for the on-site engineer. Disconnect it ASAP (to stop corrosion on the PCB from electrolysis), tip it on edge to drain for a minute (it had drain holes), then swill it under the tap, drain again, leave over an aircon outlet for 24 hours to dry.
The A380 at Ringway is nothing, I remember the very first jet airliner to land there, an Air France Caravelle, and my brother and I go to walk through it 'cos Dad knew the airport manager, a Mr Whittle. And Vulcans from Woodford? Regular visitors.
DWP made it work
When in Cabinet Office, DirectGov claimed that you could use a 3rd party digital certificate for secure access, but a very respected IT consultancy could not make that work. Moving DG to DWP made it work a lot better, but it seemed odd for DWP to be a service supplier to other depts, so taking it back to a non-spending dept makes sense. And there is a new team at Cabinet Office, hopefully more approachable than the original group.
What about Lampeter? Don't they need an outstation to help count the sheep?
Phishers offering fake banking security protection
There is now a regular drip of phishing emails offering HSBC's new online security software for download...
Local Business Link sites included?
In that £35M, perhaps the 9 local Business Link sites were also included.
Bring back the Chambers of Commerce I say! My local Business Link sends me loads of inane stuff... Mind, I only used the Chamber for carnets needed for temporarily exporting equipment.
Operation cost recovery only
You should all go talk to Lord Erroll (an IT man at heart), who has been pointing out that it was only operational cost that the £30 fee (and the passport fee, for its really all one system) is meant to recover.
The production line without proper supervision problem
As well as the problems revealed by PwC and others, students talking to me about their problems with the loan company have indicated that they cannot talk to anyone who can take ownership of their problem and resolve it. It seems that the same production line method that so frustrated farmers when battling with the DEFRA Single Farm Payment scheme have been built into the student loan system. (And farmers are not out of the wood yet: was talking to one such this week - she has connections in very high places, but it seems that these outsourced organisations are untouchable until too late.)
Another HMRC problem
Capita Hartshead, handling pension payments for retired civil servants and widows of late civil servants is currently overloaded because it was sent a lot of wrong tax codes by HMRC:
"IMPORTANT INFORMATION REGARDING TAX CODES AND PAYMENT ADVICES
Please note we are receiving an unprecedented volume of telephone calls regarding information contained in April payment advice notes. As a result if this you may find it difficult to get through to us at present.
HMRC has recently introduced the new National Insurance and PAYE Service (NPS) which they are using to issue tax coding notices for the first time.
Unfortunately the transition to the new system has brought to light some discrepancies in their existing records and this is resulting in a number of incorrect Coding Notices being issued."
Yes, on Wednesday you could not get through or register to use its web site.
What about that email cockup a week ago?
Last week, couldn't send email (blueyonder). After much wasted time (and 0845 cost) with the incompetent customer service non-service, eventually to a south Asian person whose English I could not understand, then by Googling I discovered 'My Virgin Media' (to which Virgin does not contribute). Virgin are in breach of contract: without my agreement they changed my SMTP username to the mailbox name that they use to send me marketing emails. That's the last straw after the outages, the high cost, the deluge of marketing rubbish. Soon I will be leaving them, as have others down my street (lots of Sky dishes now).
Common methods - maybe at attempt to do that
Last December central govt launched Putting the Front Line First, a cost reduction programme to put more services online: http://www.hmg.gov.uk/frontlinefirst.aspx
Central govt first, local govt maybe next. Driven by Treasury (you know: those people who count the money and tell the politicos that the coffers are empty).
What about second childhood?
The SI rule is no good for wrinklies who look too young to be imbibing, 'cos the bus pass, while it has a hologram, does not include DoB (despite Mystic Meg apparently thinking it can be used as proof of age).
Production line conveyer job, nobody sweeping the floor
From an interview seen on BBC TV, it seems like a re-run of the DEFRA Single Farm Payment fiasco: application goes down a production line, operatives peck at it as it goes past, nobody does anything if it falls on the floor, can't find out where it is. Blair created a policy called Information Assurance, but those who let these service contracts do not have a clue about implementing quality methods.
The EC will soon have us by the proverbials...
...because they want true eID, with digital cert, etc. And they want it by 2014 (wanted it by 2009, fully interoperable across the EU, but 2003 eEurope Smart Cards work showed that was over-optimistic).
Didn't we hear yesterday that most transactions with govt will be on-line by 2014? That needs eID, not CnP. But does HO listen? Meg, however, knows.
The other HMRC scam
Last week I received a couple of the HMRC refund offers, the 'calculation of your fiscal activity' text ones, so those are around as well.
Oysters are not the only (or most economical) fruit
The decision not to issue Oysters with Olympic tickets was known about 6 months ago, and at the time was said to be based on a clash with the TfL upgrade programme for their technology - they wanted to get started on upgrades in 2011, but would have been forced by Olympic rules to delay that. More recently it has become known that TfL can see ways in which they believe they can dramatically cut operating costs, namely by adding contactless bank payment technology. A problem with the Oyster scheme is that there are many Oyster cards that are used only very occasionally or not at all, but they remain live because there isn't an expiry date. Sweeping those cards out in favour of bank cards (pre-paid or normal debit) is seen as a win-win, because the card holder can use bank cards for more than just travel, and the bankers carry the cost of managing the population of cards (which of course will have expiry dates). Do I need to point out that Oyster cards issued to Olympics spectators would be taken away afterwards as trophies and never used again? And, to forestall one objection to bank cards in the TfL environment, the daily fare cap with PAYG will continue, via a technology and risk sharing agreement with the bankers.
"Wasn't there a furore recently about NI numbers? Something along the lines of circa 100 million issued, 85 million population (inc those who've died) - what about the balance....!!!??"
Yes - and hence the decision was taken to clean it up, but over a long period, by cross matching with the HO database (just the one, 'cos ID cards have the same data as passports and therefore a common database) when we next apply for something (passport and/or ID card). But I have not applied for either recently, so do not know exactly what data they ask for.
No surprises here
The late 2006 change to the ID card project killed off the idea of re-registering everybody and the consequential brand new database. In its place was said to be a triple list architecture of linked datasets: existing NI database (improved data quality over a period of 20 years), existing passport database, and the new biometric database. What happened to the business of logging 'activity' we don't know, because the massive estate of dedicated terminals required has not been built (it was at one time suggested that only 10,000 would be needed, but there was never an interface spec for that port in the now lost original pre-Oct-2006 architecture diagram that was at one time on an HO web site), and, as Mystic Meg has acknowledged, HO doesn't have the capability to do eID - so we cannot use our own networks and terminals to tell them that we have moved house, etc.
"..all 2012 athletes will have to card up"
eBorders cards are for people with right to reside here for more than 6 months. So most 2012 athletes should be admitted just with their passports and visas and not required to re-register here.
...not to mix up the eBorders card with the domestic ID card. The eBorder card relates to the foreigner's visa; the domestic ID card relates to the UK passport. We have been hearing that the border guards don't know about our ID cards (so will not let us out), but one hopes they know how to handle the eBorders card.
43 years ago
Simulations... Manchester University Atlas running design simulation for ICL 1904A, input on paper tape to an editor that kept the main file on mag tape, 40 minutes to compile, ran quite quick (once the model of the CPU was complete it was run at 30 simulated instructions per sec). Govt grant to fund it.
Those diesel locos
A rail list says there are 5 diesel locos owned by Eurotunnel, none by Eurostar or contracted to them. One TV shot showed 2 of the Eurotunnel locos towing a train towards London.
Press release by Eurotunnel on Saturday (19th) says Eurotunnel rescued 5 E* trains and towed 2 of them to St Pancras.
Basic parameters, please
A farmer who I know built himself a new house on his own land and installed a ground source heat pump system - but it cost a lot and needed quite a bit of land. So maybe we could do with some parameters so that I can work out if my 70ft x 20ft back garden is big enough and if my bank manager can afford it. Over Xmas I'm putting in that £1 a roll extra loft insulation that the govt is subsidising...
...because I know people who work on the A300M. They are embarrassed by the delays and the reasons for them. Its bigger than the C130, but looks like it and performs like it, so maybe we really need it. And it does take forward the development of composite structures for aircraft.
And Tell Us Once security?
Use the ID Card to verify ID on-line? But its not an eID card...
Mystic Meg is right
Meg is right that nobody can steal your identity - not without stealing your fingerprint biometrics, they can't. They can still impersonate you, however, in lots and lots of situations where the biometrics are not used for authentication - and today that is every situation except for asking for a replacement ID card, as accepted by Meg in her recent radio spot.
Registering makes the data that you supply your official identity, which you are stuck with until the world ends.
...TB@12.25:Firefox normally, IE6 when I have to use IE, but main systems are XP. But will have to pension off that W2K system soon as support for its s/w dwindles. So I'm dipping my toe in W7, mounted on one of those bargain basement systems that Morgans used to sell.
One use for the W2K system is booking coach tickets by Nat Express: using Firefox with Noscript on XP fails at the transfer to the payment function: XSS use is reported and the transaction gets blocked. Rail bookings on other sites (those using Trainline s/w) go through OK on XP.
DVLA has a life of its own
Having put the DVLC past well behind it (3 wheeled Morris Minors, because of data entry methods not up to then extant best practice), DVLA now has an independent life of its own. For example, it makes the highly secure eBorders smart cards (e.g. laser embedded pictures capability). Expect to see it using its expertise to grow as a significant supplier to other govt organisations.
(Richard P: if they can't get it right, did you write to them, and did they reply? If they can't resolve this, email the Minister with copy to your MP.)
NX coaches do it as well
National Express coaches have been selling e-tickets for a while. Having bought the ticket on the web, you download it to your phone and then display it to the driver. If its a ticket for a specific time, the driver has a printed manifest to check you off against. If its some kind of open ticket, the risks are higher.
Up and out
Isn't it time that Martin Baker pulled that lever on his ejection seat?
...was very straight with us on yesterday's R4 Today: the biometrics will at present only be used to issue you with a replacement card if you lose it. Unfortunately the BBC failed to pick up on how the enrolment process can verify your ID in a few minutes - so back to something said a while ago: the ID that will be registered becomes your 'official ID', despite any other name, etc, that other organisations have for you.